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The Hall of Fame connection between quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce steals the show every single week for the Kansas City Chiefs. They did so again Sunday during the Chiefs’ last-minute comeback victory over the Los Angeles Chargers when the two hooked up for a game-winning 17-yard score.
However, the contributions around those elite performers are what take Kansas City from being consistently good to nearly unstoppable.
The names change, but premium help makes the Chiefs truly dangerous.
Looking back, the Chiefs benefited from Damien Williams racking up 133 total yards and two scores, Sammy Watkins snagging five passes for 98 yards and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz playing arguably the best game of his career to win Super Bowl LIV.
One’s surrounding cast is vital, even for two of the best to ever play their respective positions.
During Sunday’s contest, a pair of rookies showed how they could be bigger contributors for the remainder of the 2022 campaign and even expand Kansas City’s dynamic offense.
Running back Isiah Pacheco and wide receiver Skyy Moore both posted new career highs against the Chargers, and they needed to do so based on how injuries have changed the Chiefs’ lineup.
“They’ve done a nice job of working hard,” head coach Andy Reid said after the game. “It hasn’t come naturally and easy. They’ve worked their tail off to where the QB trusts them and where the coaches trust them to play them.”
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Of the two, Pacheco has slowly worked his way into a larger role throughout the season.
“For me, it’s a brotherhood in that running back room. We’re pushing one another,” Pacheco told reporters last week when asked about the Chiefs’ running back rotation.
“We’re giving each other examples of how we could have hit runs better and what we see here, what did they see from the sidelines, so we’re building in this room, and there’s a lot of football left. We need all the guys to compete here and to win.”
Entering his matchup against the Chargers, the rookie had three games with 60 or more rushing yards. He cleared 100 for the first time Sunday, as the Chiefs ran him 15 or more times for the second consecutive game. The approach should continue since Clyde Edwards-Helaire exited with an injured ankle.
“He’s a tough kid, but that doesn’t look good,” Reid stated. “High ankle sprains aren’t the best. We’ll see how he does.”
A disappointing outcome for the 2020 first-round draft pick turns into an expanded opportunity for Pacheco.
This year’s 251st-overall pick provides plenty of juice when he gets to carry the ball. The 216-pound back slashes through the defense thanks to plenty of wiggle and an extra gear for the position.
Of all the running backs currently in the league, no one runs a faster 40-yard-dash than Pacheco, who posted a 4.37-second effort at this year’s NFL combine.
A transition period should have been expected after sharing a backfield at Rutgers for the last four seasons. Pacheco was productive but never had more than 169 carries in a single season or a 1,000-yard campaign.
“Definitely,” Pacheco said when asked about it being easier getting into a rhythm with the Chiefs’ starting unit.
“Going at it every week, getting the feel for it—different teams, different schemes. For me, it’s having the same mindset every day when I come into the building of going to work. When I go out there on the practice field—go 100 percent, so when we come to game day, [we] can execute at a high, intense level.”
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The explosivity in the Chiefs’ backfield will help take some pressure off Mahomes, figuratively and literally. While Pacheco doesn’t need to become a Derrick Henry-like workhorse all of a sudden, his explosiveness must be accounted for when he’s lined up behind or next to Mahomes.
Furthermore, Kansas City’s offensive tackles haven’t played as well this season. A more reliable run game can give the front five more confidence and slow the defensive line down instead of opponents being able to pin their ears back at all times.
In the passing game, Moore’s emergence served as a necessity, as much as his skill set finally getting some shine.
Prior to Sunday’s five-catch, 63-yard performance, this year’s 54th overall draft pick made seven catches for 106 yards all season. Moore’s biggest contributions to this point happened on special teams, though he experienced struggles in that phase.
“He had the punt returns that were a bit of a mess,” Reid mentioned. “The guys kept encouraging him through this. The players stuck by him. That peer pressure is the strongest pressure in that case.”
Opportunities also arose due to injuries. Neither JuJu Smith-Schuster nor Mecole Hardman played in the contest. Kadarius Toney also left the game with a hamstring injury. Smith-Schuster remains in the concussion protocol after the brutal hit he took from Jacksonville Jaguars safety Andre Cisco, while Hardman is currently on injured reserve because of an abdomen injury.
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Moore displayed good releases working out of the slot with exceptional quickness to create separation in tight spaces. Mahomes’ last completion during Kansas City’s game-winning drive before finding Kelce for the touchdown went to the rookie. The play and confidence in Moore speak volumes.
Kansas City’s offense had to evolve this year after the organization chose to trade Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. In doing so, the team basically forced Mahomes to become more of a distributor.
When operating in such a manner, having several quality options at the quarterback’s disposal makes the offensive scheme far less predictable. Yes, Kelce will get the ball in critical situations, as he did Sunday with the game on the line. But more damage can be done by those when Mahomes can spread the ball to all of the available weapons.
The Chiefs’ initial second-round pick is just one more option to keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. Once the group is entirely healthy, Mahomes will have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose.
“It’s special,” the NFL’s leading passer said. “We’ve been doing this a while, but to see those new guys making plays, it’s special.”
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.